Welcome back for Day 15 of this year’s 31 Days of Horror series! Today we’ll be talking about Roman Polanski’s 1965 thriller, Repulsion.
First of all, this is a weird, weird movie. There is so much symbolism, and so much psychological commentary, that it leaves the viewer unsure how to separate the real from the imagined. Even after watching, I still don’t know which aspects were exclusively happening inside the main character’s mind, and which aspects legitimately occurred. I’m certain that this is intentional on the part of Mr. Polanski, but it is a bit of a negative as well as a positive for me, personally.
The film mainly revolves around the inner anguish of innocently sensual Carol LeDoux. Carol is played by Catherine Denueve, who turns in a haunting performance as the sexually confused young woman. Something ugly in Carol’s past has clearly made her abhor men (and the idea of sex that they inherently represent), but we are not given any further insight as to the exact origins of her anxiety. Be that as it may, Carol is quite attractive (albeit a little childlike), so she finds herself fending off men’s advances at practically every turn. These repeated romantic stressors, coupled with the departure of her sister (and her sister’s lover, who is a completely separate source of consternation to Carol altogether), cause her to slowly lose her grip on reality and descend into homicidal madness. It is unsettling, to say the least.
Right from the opening credit sequence, Polanski builds an atmosphere of tense expectation– an unshakeable, claustrophobic feeling that something horrifying is about to happen. He never lets that feeling slip, either. The entire hour and forty plus minutes of the film are taut, well-paced, and highly suspenseful (even if a little confusing at times). Also contributing to the sense of anticipatory horror are the subtle, eerie sounds happening in the background of every scene: flies buzzing around the raw rabbit that Carol leaves out in the kitchen; the incessantly ticking clock; water slowly dripping from the faucet; the list goes on.
Repulsion is an extremely artistic movie, and very European in tone. The soundtrack, the heavy French accents of the two leading ladies, and the crisp black and white all contribute to the overall feeling that you’re watching a foreign film. Even the vacancy of Catherine Denueve’s Carol is reminiscent of a sad and beautiful mime. All that’s missing is a bicycle, a black turtleneck sweater, and moonlit shots of the Champs-Elysses. It may sound silly, but I actually favor these technical and mood-related aspects of the film over the story itself. I believe there is such a thing as trying too hard to make a movie open to interpretation, and in my opinion, that’s what Polanski was guilty of here.
Tomorrow, please join me again as we begin the 1970s with another entry from the “hag horror” genre: Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1971). Thanks for reading, and keep on comin’ back for more 31 Days of Horror!!